What To Do?

For several years this has been the spot where I have created gradually expanding lists of my favorite new albums and archival releases that turned my crank for each calendar year. It’s been quite fun most of the time, and recently got me on a few lists to receive review copies, many of which are actually pretty damn good. Thing is, doing so seems to encourage me to have to keep up with everything I hear about that sounds cool. That motivation, plus my natural curiosity and fear that I might miss something, inflates this seemingly fun project into a major pain in the ass too frequently and causes something that I really don’t think is healthy: I spend so much time cramming stuff in my earhole that I spend far less time listening to music I have loved for years. I’m freshly into my sixties, and I am not sure I want to keep doing it. Face it: when you keep hearing “Watching the Wheels” in your head and feeling upbraided by poor ol’ doomed John, you might wanna shift down. Also, so many of my talented, sharp-eared and big-hearted friends–many via the kind graces of Substack–are already doing the work; when you take their work together and add in the indefatigable Tom Hull–and these people do a lot of writing–I have to question what need have you/they of me. Seriously. I ain’t fishin’ for compliments. I mean, I know all that this has been and what it hasn’t.

So…I have some ideas. Obviously, if I only wrote about a few records I liked each month–wrote about them, much more fun than listing–regardless of vintage, I’d solve two problems: 1) I could watch the wheels more frequently, and 2) I’d have time and be motivated to listen to time-tested favorites. I could supplement that new practice by scribbling a bit about how music has manifested itself in my private and professional life, which it always does in interesting ways every month. I could write about ONE new record and ONE old one that really knocked me for a loop–and, again, give the reader a peek into music’s impacts on my domains (I think I actually have more than two, if I get out of the private – professional split and subdivide them. I could just look back into the history of this blog–some readers may not have noticed I’ve done several different things with it over the years–and pick up where I left off with something that was working when real life knocked me off the tracks for a bit.

I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, jeez, at least 10 new records have been rattling my bones by the end of January since I’ve been posting lists. I really can’t say that right now, but I can say this:

Tyler Keith’s seldom if ever disappointed me, going back to the earliest days of his I know, when he co-led The Neckbones, a Southern-fried Voidoids in more than a few ways. Keith wrestles with sin and salvation as regularly but more explicitly than Jerry Lee, he’s a reminder to listeners that much of the best rock and roll–and that’s what Hell to Pay is, even if a violin sneaks in–has come from the working class, and he’s got a way of conjuring desperation that always feels like the United States to me. His first new record in awhile, Hell to Pay, on Black and Wyatt Records, shows his commitment to those values has waned not a whit, and that his musical attack coheres with his excellent dark ‘n’ pulpy ‘n’ sweaty Southern noir novel The Mark of Cain, published last year. I highly recommend both vinyl and book, the latter his first.

Japanese pianist and bandleader extraordinaire Fujii released her 100th album as a leader or co-leader in 27 years (Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams–check it out), sending me on a backwards binge through her catalog that’s yet to hit an impasse. Fujii can do it all scintillatingly: lead big bands and ensembles, duet with all manner of instruments (with other pianists, with violin, and here, with electric guitarist Yoshihide), play like petals falling and landing or a rockslide rattling down to the road. She’s been a “Where have I been?” artist for this listener, and I suspect I’ll spend the year continuing to get caught up. On Ayler Records, and that should tell you something about her intensity.

Am I the only one who mourns the death of the hard-copy music guide? (It sure put the damper on my bathroom reading.) Moping the other day, I was thumbing through an old Penguin Guide to Jazz–I always loved them because they covered European jazz very well and very reliably–and came upon this 1974 **** record I’d overlooked. I then hit Discogs, found a decently-priced copy, and there weren’t many, then waited for Mr.Postman. I’ve played it 4-5 times since then (a few months ago); the band was a cooperative that notably included Sun Ra vet Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet and a young William Parker on bass. At many points on the record they sound like the Arkestra as if led by Ayler: almost magically structured, but intense–intensely martial. I can’t get enough of it; it’s out of print, so if you want to sample it…well, you knows what to do (RIP Barrett Strong). On No Business Records, and good luck. And here’s your luck–whaddya know?

5 thoughts on “What To Do?

  1. Hi Phil,

    Thanks for the music and the tip(s) on Tyler Keith. I guess he is new to me. Is his new release the place to start or is there somewhere else you would recommend?

    I think you need to cut down on the number of new releases to which you listen. I know there is always something great that might be found around the next bend if only you keep listening. Sure you might miss it if you reduce your intake. Or maybe someone else will find it and tell you. Or maybe you miss one; there are worse things that could happen.

    We have only so much time in which we can listen, whether it is per day or how many years remain … and in what condition will we find ourselves. I sustained a severe brain injury a few years ago, (the good news: I am still smart as shit), and it has caused a significant lessening of the amount of time I can listen. I always assumed that, no matter what, I’d always be able to listen to music and read books, (the possibility of dementia or something of that nature haunts me), and if I could no longer play e.g. tennis then I could switch to e.g. lawn bowling. But not being able to listen or read as much as I used to and would like to is a gut shot. I was never the “full catalogue” listener that some people are but, even on my more limited terms, I look around the room and see stacks of CDs that I haven’t heard. And what about my favourites from the preceding sixty years? I get into a panic about where to start.

    This isn’t intended to be a “woe is Mike” sob-story. I mentioned my stuff only as a cautionary note about time, what we need vs what we’d like. That William Parker ten CD from a year or two ago? It isn’t going to hit the deck unless I give it to someone. “Gravity’s Rainbow”? I got it when it was published and have accumulated (why?) a couple of paperback copies over the years. I’ve never read the book. I decided last year that I am not going to – too much time. Although I may reread “V.” … and “The Sound and the Fury” … and … but I’ve got to keep some time to read “The Mark of Cain” – a guy needs some darkpulpysweatysouthernnoir. Hey, what about walking the dog, (Rufus Thomas or Norma Tanega or ), and going to the shore and cooking some food and watching a movie, (“Rio Bravo” or “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”?): life its ownself. It all takes time. I know you do all those things or your versions of them. But still.

    So, my advice is not to listen less but listen to less. For what it’s worth.

    As to the writing, I think writing about a half-dozen or so albums, (new, old, both, what’s resonating with you), sounds good to me. You”ll figure out what works.

    I hope you haven’t read this far. If you have, sorry.

    Best wishes and merci beaucoup,


  2. If possible, read Tagaq’s memoir SPLIT TOOTH while experiencing TONGUE. Also: Canadian! Though not really anything to be jubilant about, as far as Third Nations Canadians are concerned. Not judging: we have our own problems FOR SURE.

    1. OK, thanks, I have noted it and will see what I can do, (the stack of the unread is up there with the unheard). I need to know more. It is ironic that I know more about happenings in the USA than I do in The Great North. Lots of reasons to know the lowdown south of border but that is no excuse not to follow what needs to be cleaned up in my own backyard. On their first album, the Mothers chanted “it can’t happen here”: who listened? Who are the brain police? I appreciate your follow-through with the book recommendation.

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